In the midst of great civil unrest and tumult in England in the 1600s, Jeremiah Burroughs preached a sermon series on Christian Contentment, which is now published as The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment. When your nation is melting down, when the world has gone mad, or even when your family or business are facing challenges, what do Christians need? One of the most important skills you need is Christian contentment. Christian contentment is not apathy or stoicism; it is the Christian virtue that puts you in the very best possible position to do your duty and maximize the good you can do in the world.
“… for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content. I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: every where and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ which strentheneth me” (Phil. 4:11-13).
SUMMARY OF THE TEXT
While our text includes one of the most famous Christian calendar verses, we should note that it is not a random “you can do it” verse. It comes in this particular context, where Paul is describing how he has learned contentment in every circumstance (Phil. 4:11). In particular, this strength that Christ gives grows directly out of learning contentment in little and in much, whether full or going hungry, whether abounding or suffering (Phil. 4:12). The word for “content” literally means “self-sufficient” or “self-defense.” The root verb can mean to raise a barrier or to ward off or avail, and the prefix simply means “for oneself.” Clearly Paul does not mean this in a humanistic or egocentric way, as Christ is the one doing the strengthening. But the Christian faith does not teach that we sit around while God works in us. As Paul said earlier in Philippians, we work out our salvation with fear and trembling because God is at work in us to will and to do according to His good pleasure (Phil. 2:12-13). And what is one of the most fundamental motions of that work? Contentment.
CONTENTMENT AS READINESS FOR CONQUEST
We may define contentment as a steady, quiet, and submissive heart that delights in God’s fatherly disposal of every circumstance. We know from many places in Scripture that the godly also plead with God, wrestle with God, and lay their petitions before Him (e.g. Psalms, Phil. 4:6). But all our pleas, laments, and petitions must be matched with an earnest and joyful “but Thy will be done.” If Christ prayed those words in the garden before His arrest (Mt. 26:42), how much more must we? And the thing to note is the fact Jesus was praying this on the verge of His great mission. It was His willingness to submit to God’s plan that put Him in position to do His duty and accomplish the maximum good for the world. Fussing, complaining, moping, fretting, cursing, anger, and bitterness only complicate the mission, and render you less prepared for what comes next. Rather than facing the problem, you are part of the problem.
“Let your conversation be without covetousness; and be content with such things as ye have: for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee. So that we may boldly say, The Lord is my helper, and I will not fear what man shall do unto me” (Heb. 13:5-6, cf. Ps. 118:6). First, notice that this exhortation comes right on the heels of exhortations to hospitality and sexual purity (Heb. 13:1-4). These are common places for people to give in to temptations to discontentment: houses, food, clothing, furniture, decorations, marriage, physical appearance, sex, etc. God created us to be fruitful, multiply, and take dominion of the world, and this means receiving what God has given and then making it better. But you cannot make it better if you do not receive what has actually been given with joy and gratitude. You have to see the “good” before you can make it “very good.” Bitterness and fussing puts you in the best possible position to miss things, confuse things, and harm things. Think this way about your spouse and kids and parents, and work out from there.
CONTENT LIKE JOSHUA & DAVID
There are two Old Testament passages quoted Hebrews 13:5-6. The first is from Joshua 1:5 on the verge of the conquest of Canaan, when God assures Joshua that He will be with him as He was with Moses. Hebrews was written in the context of significant upheaval, and there was great temptation among Christians to go back to Judaism as a way to try to hide, blend in, or cope with all the turmoil. But going back to Judaism was the way of destruction; it was like going back to Egypt. The Christians in the first century (and every century) are called to press on toward the goal of discipling the nations. Every generation fights from the ground we have been given, but the key is Jesus will never leave us or forsake us (cf. Mt. 28:20). And if Christ is with us, then we can face all things through Him who strengthens us (Phil. 4:13).
The other texted quoted in Hebrews 13 is from Psalm 118, which is a triumphant war song, and it was the particular psalm quoted and sung by the people who welcomed Jesus into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. “The Lord is on my side; I will not fear: what can man do unto me?” This is the heart of Christian contentment. It is a rock-solid trust in the living God. The psalmist goes on: “It is better to trust in the Lord than to put confidence in princes. All nations compassed me about: but in the name of the Lord will I destroy them… The Lord is my strength and song, and is become my salvation… The right hand of the Lord is exalted: the right hand of the Lord does valiantly… The stone which the builders rejected is become the head stone of the corner. This is the Lord’s doing and it is marvelous in our eyes. The is the day which the Lord has made; we will rejoice and be glad in it…”
Have all the nations surrounded us with mindless mandates and psychotic lockdowns and sexual confusion and baby bloodlust and economic insanity and global conspiracies? The Lord is on our side; we will not fear: what can man do to us? All nations surround us, but in the name of the Lord we will destroy them. The Lord is our strength and song, and He is our salvation.
Paul says that contentment is something he learned. It was something he trained for, practiced, and perfected. But this was not just some stoic virtue, it was training for battle, training for conquest. “Godliness with contentment is great gain” (1 Tim. 6:6). And this is because our contentment is Christ. When we work out our salvation, all that we are working out is Christ, and He is what God is working in us. He is our peace, our shield and tower – the One who strengthens us for every moment. Fear and frustration distort your vision because all you can see is the enemy, but contentment steels your heart for battle because Christ is our contentment.